Top 40: Best non-qualifiers in ESC history [Part 1]

We have two weeks of blogging left before Ukraine kicks off the 2014 national final season the weekend after next. So, what better way to culminate our countdown series than to bring you a mammoth compilation centred on one of Eurovision’s most frequently discussed topics – the non-qualifiers. Of the 165 songs that have been cast aside at the semi-final stage since their Eurovision introduction in 1993*, which 40 do we at ESC Views deem to be the best?

Many expected Femminem to reach the grand final in 2010 - how far up will they feature in our countdown?
Many expected Femminem to reach the grand final in 2010 – how far up will they feature in our countdown?

In recent years, the majority of Eurovision entries have had one major obstacle to circumnavigate in order to bring their countries the contest glory they so desire. This obstacle is of course the semi-final elimination process. Many favourites do manage to traverse these muddy waters, and reach the solace of the grand final on the other side. However, there have been just as many injustices along the way, whereby absolutely amazing songs have been unceremoniously abandoned on the Tuesday or Thursday nights and largely forgotten about. Well no longer! We have collected and resurrected the best of these semi-final casualties, and assembled them for your nostalgic enjoyment (you can thank us later, it’s alright.)

This top 40 will be brought to you in four stages – two articles this weekend, and the other two next weekend, so that we reveal our top 10 in time to get started on our national final coverage the weekend after that! In addition, for the first time since we started featuring multi-stage countdowns, Rory and myself will both be contributing two articles each, rather than having just one narrative voice guiding you guys through the entire list. We have ranked the entries together too, so what we have prepared really is reflective of our combined opinion.

While we’re here, I may as well stress that point – this ranking represents our opinion, and as such it may be a little controversial or unexpected. Please take this into account before passing a condemnatory eye over some of our more ambiguous choices!

That aside, it looks like we’re ready to dive into today’s selection!

* the pre-qualifying rounds from 1993 and 1996 are included in this countdown, alongside the regular semi-finals which have taken place annually since 2004.

40 – Aisha – “What For? (Only Mr God Knows Why)” (Latvia 2010)

We will kick off our top 40 with one of the numerous Latvian entries to have crashed and burned big-style in the semis: Aisha from 2010, with the stylistically challenging “What For?”. Now, I won’t draw a veil over those painful vocals here, I accept she was far from note-perfect, but what really merits her inclusion in this countdown is – comme je l’ai déjà dit – the boundary-pushing nature of the song itself. It’s difficult to cram into a generic box, incorporating elements of folk, soul and R&B – and after a few listens, it’s oddly catchy in a way. It was definitely a brave choice, and it does keep you guessing as a listener – however, something this experimental was always doomed to fail really, wasn’t it… especially when you factor in its eventually woeful vocal performance.

39 – Janika Sillamaa – “Muretut Meelt Ja Südametuld” (Estonia 1993)

1993’s “Kvalifikacija Za Millstreet” featured musical contributions from seven Eastern European nations, of which three were eventually selected, in traditional ESC style, to progress to the regular show in Ireland. Of these three, I would argue that only Bosnia’s “Sva Bol Svijeta” really deserved to go through; the qualifiers from Croatia and Slovenia were remarkably weak, and there were two other entries in the field which I would replace them with. One of these is this lovely little song from Estonia, sung in in inimitably twee – and slightly frightening – manner by Janika Sillamaa. For a country which partially attributes its breakaway from the Soviet Union to its collective passion for song, I find it something of an injustice that this, their first attempt at reaching the Eurovision final, was quietly extinguished before it was even given a chance at a pan-Europen presentation. Janika exudes joy whilst delivering the lilting melody, and one can’t help but be swept along in her wake. In what transpired to be quite a varied line-up at the actual contest in 1993, I have always wondered how this one would have slotted in, and what its reaction would have been.

38 – Anmary – “Beautiful Song” (Latvia 2012)

Many of the non-qualifying songs in this countdown could be described as “guilty pleasures”, and Latvia’s 2012 entry is no exception. It was a song that couldn’t have taken itself less seriously if it tried, which, if I’m honest, is where the comedy really lay, for Anmary – bless her little cotton socks – belted it out as if it had all the lyrical complexity of a falsely inspirational “X Factor” winner’s single. Having clearly learnt her words phonetically, she had no idea how ridiculous the lyrics of “Beautiful Song” really were, and whilst the population of Europe sat back in incongruous laughter, she swanned around the Baku stage with her “Loose Women” backing group, oblivious to how ridiculous she actually looked. The song, though, is stupidly catchy. Hence you find yourself reading its resumé. If it’s any consolation too, her song did reach the vertiginous heights of 16th – yes 16TH – in the semi, which, compared to Latvia’s abysmal record of late, is as good as a top 5 finish really.

37 – Nina Badric – “Nebo” (Croatia 2012)

I can pinpoint this song’s unfortunate failure to qualify to three major flaws. Firstly, the new arrangement of “Nebo” completely massacred the modern dramatism of the original album version, replacing that iconic hand clap with a half-hearted attempt at a live drum kit, and as a result destroying one of the major motifs which had the potential to anchor the track in viewers’ minds. Not only did they do that, however, they then put Nina herself in what can only be described as a glamourised bin bag, with an unidentified mass of sleeve which made her entire body look like a set of amphibious webbed phalanges. It didn’t work for Kati Wolf, honey, and it definitely did not work for you Nina. And then, on top of all that, just when we thought it couldn’t get any more disappointing, they went and ballsed up the key change didn’t they. Whatever the hell those guys were trying to do with that massive bedsheet, it didn’t work. I mean, look at her national song presentation. It was classy, modern, simple and memorable. Why couldn’t they have done that in Baku? WHYYYYY?

36 – Femminem – “Lako Je Sve” (Croatia 2010)

Another Croatian entry features at number 36, this time the criminally underrated ballad from 2010 “Lako Je Sve”. I think it’s fair to say that the majority of us expected this one to go sailing through to the Saturday night, even if we were sceptical of its eventual chances in the final rankings. However – and I can say in all honesty that this still baffles me – Croatia were not one of the names in the envelopes at the end of the Thursday show. I mean, yes, the live performance didn’t show them at their best, with that conspicuous late entry in the first verse being one of a few rhythmic mishaps encountered by the trio. Conversely, their professionalism and vocal control allowed them to soldier on and get through the worst of it. All in all, a polished and relevant song with a decent stage concept and an unfortunate execution. A real shame this one didn’t get through.

35 – Alexandra & Konstantin – “My Galileo” (Belarus 2004)

… aaaaand it’s time for guilty pleasure number two. And I’m not even going to try and defend this one. I know, I accept… it’s shit. But I just cannot stop myself from being drawn in by the cutesy folk arrangement, those spine-tingling register changes and the nonsense lyrics. Pretty much demonstrating why the free language rule isn’t always a good thing, I doubt you’d be able to fathom a single word she’s singing on a first listen to this. “Raaandyyyy goat, das preet to reeeech new uh-raazongzzz” … or something like that anyway. It’s easier to pretend it’s in an imaginary language really. The two of them did look like they had literally been dragged away from some medieval hippy cult and forced to sing this song on the Istanbul stage, and the complete irrelevance of that guy at the side who appears to be playing an elaborate piece of pottery… and the amount of ACTUAL cobwebs in her hair… yeah, showers have been invented for a reason Alexandra.

Scratch that. I’ve just watched it again. Forget cobwebs. She looked like she had just been exhumed. From a grave. After previously dying. And decaying.

34 – Neiokõsõ – “Tii” (Estonia 2004)

Another example of underrated folk music mastery from 2004 here, except there’s a key difference in that the ladies of Neiokõsõ could actually sing. And rather well too. If there just so happened to be a strong feminist movement in remote Estonian villages, then I am pretty much sure they would use something like this as their motivational theme song. It’s all powerful and striking, with dramatically understated percussion allowing the traditional group singing to take centre stage. Back in 2004, this one probably just got lost under the shadow of Ruslana, which is a real shame, because in my estimation, it really deserved a slot on the Saturday night.

33 – Stella Mwangi – “Haba Haba” (Norway 2011)

This one already featured in our Top 10 of fanwank flops, and that in itself justifies its inclusion in this list. This one was supposed to do really well. And I mean REALLY well. Accompanied by a catchy dance routine, an annoyingly memorable chorus, questionable vocal talent and a high energy promotion campaign, Stella Mwangi’s “Haba Haba” had all the hallmarks of what a successful Eurovision entry used to be… problem is, it was entered in 2011, not 2005. And therein lies the reason for its downfall. This formulaic approach was no longer a sure-fire route to success by the time the Düsseldorf contest rolled around, and Norway’s eventual seventeenth place in the semi-final served to cement that fact.

That didn’t stop the song becoming an evergreen with fans, of course – to the extent that our very own Rory (then aged 12, must stress this) performed a cover of the song for a school talent show [disclaimer: he’s a singer, not a dancer folks. apologies for the Martin Vucic-esque rhythmic convulsions *dance moves*]

32 – Miro – “Angel Si Ti” (Bulgaria 2010)

If you have been a regular reader, you’ll know that the two of us – particularly me – are huge fans of Bulgaria, and their contributions to Eurovision. Seeing as how so many of them have been cruelly discarded at the semi-final stage, it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to find that they will feature quite heavily in this countdown, with the first such appearance being their 2010 entrant Miro. It cannot be denied that “Angel Si Ti” was an oddly-presented number, with the *apparently* straight Miro gyrating in tight white D’NASH-esque attire amidst the chaos created by campest dancers seen on the Oslo stage – oiled and shirtless, of course. Add to that the misguided language change (this song worked SO much better entirely in Bulgarian) and the unfortunate lack of voting allies – not exactly a recipe for success is it. Which is a shame, because as a stand-alone song, it’s actually very good. Contemporary, catchy, well sung. And mostly forgotten about now. *sob*

31 – Tamara, Vrcak & Adrijan – “Let Me Love You” (Macedonia 2008)

This one was definitely more favoured by Rory than by myself, however I do see its merits too. Coming after a string of four consecutive Macedonian ethno-pop entries in this mould, many saw it as certain to sneak over the line in its semi-final, and then end up around 17th on the final night. This was something of a routine for Macedonia in the mid-2000s, as I’m sure you will remember. Imagine the shock then, when this one – on the surface no worse than any of their previous successful efforts – fell foul of the absurd “jury pick” rule that the EBU implemented in 2008 & 2009. When we look deeper into this whole entry though, I’d say the main problem with it is Tamara herself. Or, more specifically, her hairstyle. She came out onto the Belgrade stage looking like a mid-40s housewife drunk at a wedding, and somehow managing to belt out a stellar vocal. Add to that the awkwardness of rapper Vrcak and the sheer irrelevance of Adrijan (like seriously, guys, what did he do?!) and you’ve got something sufficiently flawed to justify a semi-final failure. Let’s hope the same doesn’t happen again when Tamara returns as a backing singer for her sister Tijana (Dapcevic) in Copenhagen next year!

Well, that, dear friends, was the first part of our rankings. With 165 songs to choose from, I’m sure you all have your own favourite non-qualifiers, and if they haven’t been mentioned yet, then they may be featured in our later articles – which means we love them just as much as you do! Make sure you check back to find out if they’ve made the cut.

And in the meantime, what do you think of today’s list?

Your Views:

Which non-qualifiers are your favourites?
Which non-qualifiers are your favourites?

Janne Bruzelius from Sweden: Slovenia 2006, Czech Republic and Montenegro 2007

Hans Leenders from the Netherlands: Switzerland 2009

Azerin Quliyeva from Azerbaijan: I think that there have been a lot of beautiful songs which have not qualified to final. For example Vida Mihna.

James O’Connor from the United Kingdom: I quite liked Israel 2004 but my all time favourite would probably have to be Serbia’s ‘Cipela’ from 09

The views so far on this one appear to be very diverse, and some of the suggestions were definitely in our minds too as we decided which songs to include in this top 40. Will any of the non-qualifiers mentioned above feature in the three remaining articles? Check back later to find out!

And in the meantime – what do you think of the songs we have discussed thus far? Do you agree that they should have qualified for the final? And which non-qualifiers would you say are your favourites? Don’t hesitate to leave us a comment below!

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Editorial: Our review of Junior Eurovision 2013

Last night, Saturday 30th November 2013, 11-year-old Gaia Cauchi was crowned the eleventh winner of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest since its inauguration in 2003, making her the first Maltese artist in history to win any Eurovision event outright. Results aside, however, last night’s two-hour show presented a number of interesting talking points as we tentatively look forward to the next possible running of this, Eurovision’s much-maligned little brother. In short, was 2013 enough of a success to ensure JESC will happen again?

What are our overall impressions of last night's show?
What are our overall impressions of last night’s show?

So, last night was something of a momentous occasion for me, as it was the first time since 2005 (the last time the UK entered, and showed it on live TV) that I had sat down and watched Junior Eurovision from start to finish. Thanks to the escinsight podcasts on the contest, I hadn’t lost touch with JESC, however I had been nothing more than a casual follower, focusing mainly on the three or four entries per year that I deemed worthy of adding to my iPod. Rejoining the show in its all its glory last night was an interesting experience – rather like stumbling across an old episode of “Mona the Vampire” or something similar.

The first point of note – albeit a rather obvious one – is that it is very clearly engineered towards a younger audience. The clue is in the name. No matter how credible and “adult” some of the entries turn out to be, we cannot get around the fact that this show is made for children, with their contemporaries taking centre stage. Last time I watched the show, I was ten years old, pretty much the ideal demographic. I loved the catchy and memorable winner from Belarus “My Vmeste”, and I found the UK’s overly studied, low-key effort “How Does It Feel” absolutely ridiculous (to the point where my sister and I still to this day find ourselves randomly quoting Joni Fuller, and her odd articulation of her song’s titular phrase – “how DAUS IT FEE-YOL”) What I cannot even slightly recall however, is the rest of the show.

As such, the cringeworthy exchanges between the presenters last night – alongside the spectacularly meaningless dancing interludes – came as something of an unpalatable shock, not only for their sheer incongruity but, in hindsight, how futile they are likely to have been. I doubt children watching last night will remember them in a few years, whereas they WILL remember their favourite songs. Maybe this is just me looking at this with overly mature eyes, but I just think a bit more of a focus on the songs and performers would have been lovely. Timur’s *magic tricks* were cringey as hell. I’m not saying it needs to be completely serious, but even for children, “funny” is a variable concept, especially when we’re talking about an audience which stretches from Rotterdam to Baku.

Aside from that – and the Festivali-i-Këngës-worthy on-screen graphics – I would applaud NTU’s execution of the show. It was slick, professional, engaging and fun. The stage design was simple yet effective, and provided a platform which showed off most of the entries in their best light. Below, you can watch the contest in its entirety, if you so desire:

If any of you happened to be following our twitter updates during the show last night, you may have guessed that we’re not best pleased at the final result. More on that later. For now, suffice to say that the two of us were discussing and evaluating the show all the way through, and we came up with a few observations, which you can use the footage from the contest to corroborate.

In roughly chronological order then:

  • You’ll notice that commentary was provided for the live stream by none other than Luke Fisher (of escXtra) and Ewan Spence (of the aforementioned ESC Insight) – having recorded alternative commentaries for previous Eurovision and Junior Eurovision contests, the pair were this year invited to add their voices to the official online stream – a task which, as anticipated, they executed with a great deal more enjoyment and professionalism than do many of the national broadcasters’ commentators. It was refreshing to be guided through the event by people who genuinely enjoy doing it, and who are as interested in the show itself as we all are. As someone who has followed both websites for a number of years, I for one am over the moon that Luke and Ewan were given this opportunity, and I hope it opens similar doors for them in the future!
  • Queen Zlata, who you’ll already know we at ESC Views absolutely revere, was of course, one of the show’s hosts. Her initial “princess” dress was a “no, baby, no” moment, however her later outfits – we counted six in total – proved once again that her sense of style is top notch. She could look good in anything. And coming from two gay guys, that’s saying something. Her opening remarks included something to the effect of “JESC gets bigger and better every year” – wishful thinking much.
  • During Armenia’s postcard, I swear I heard Monica Avanesyan say that she was from Armenia – “a small but an Asian country”. [around 18:30 in the video] – listening back, it still sounds like either “Asian” or “nation”, the latter of which would make very little sense, and the former of which would rather nullify Armenia’s inclusion in a “European” song contest. Not getting political here, I’m just surprised the EBU let that line through.
  • Michele Perniola, say what you will, but THAT PERFORMANCE WAS FAB-U-LOUS. That guy can move, people!
  • Barbara Popovic, bless her, it all started so well. And then [see 28:28 in the video] she got to big moment at the end of the second verse… well, let’s just say she wasn’t even in the same postcode as the intended note, was she. Poor girl. That may explain why she looked so angry for the entire performance?
  • Belarus’ combination of sassy hair swishing and macho knee slides gave San Marino some competition in the fabulous stakes, it must be said.
  • If you were looking carefully, you will have noticed that one of the members of The Smile Shop was, in fact, Damien from “Mean Girls” (you know EXACTLY which one I mean.) [bolded because this was LITERALLY the highlight of my evening]
  • Emmelie de Forest looked bored senseless for the duration of her performance.
  • Twelve months on, Anastasiya Petryk is still as terrifying as ever – her voice, however, is utterly stunning.
  • The EBU spokesman (after very OBVIOUSLY disposing of the animal costumes) just *spontaneously* deciding to award every country 12 points [1:34:07 in the video] really doesn’t work. We all know that happens every year, guys, you need to find a better way of announcing it, because that just came across as sooooo sensationalised. Like, seriously!? Oh my god. Nobody saw that coming…
  • Skip to 1:40:35 and 1:41:55 in the video. Nobody saw that coming either.

This, more or less, brings us to the results.

Did the right song win? Not in the slightest. As you’ll know if you read our introductory article to JESC 2013, neither Rory nor myself were as enamoured with “The Start” as many other Eurovision fans seemed to be. In fact, the two of us outright loathed it, really. The dreary, lacklustre attempt at a melody collided with the brashly overproduced Whitney-wannabe instrumental construction. Shoehorn all of that into three minutes and give it to a child exuding the false aura of “this is cute and inspirational” and there you have it. An infuriatingly effective, yet essentially vapid musical number, which is as much a test of the victim’s listener’s endurance as it is an exercise in subtle musical paraphrasing.

Denis Midone, announcing the votes for Moldova, pretty much epitomised the weakness of the song when he attempted to warble “Right from the staaa-eeh-aahh-aaaart” before awarding it 12 points. It sounded hideous. It can’t be sung. What is the point of a song which cannot be tunefully sung, not even by its own artist?

Cue an army of pitchfork-wielding “The Start” fans baying for my blood. Yes, that’s right, not only do I hate the song, I hate Gaia’s voice. For me, it is just an absolutely abhorrent sound. Not so bad in her lower range, but as soon as the chorus kicks in, it morphs into a nasal, plastic auditory monster, something akin to the sound of air being let out of a balloon. Listening to her wailing her way through that song was physically painful. I refuse to sugar-coat this just because she’s eleven, she agreed to go out there on the international stage, and as such, she has set herself up for criticism such as this. I accept, of course, that there will be plenty of people who love both her voice and the song, but – in reference to her comment about wanting to grow up and be a vet, helping “animals in need” – I reckon there are a fair few animals in need of ear transplants after having to sit through TWO renditions of “The Start” last night… better get yourself enrolled on that veterinary course soon, love.

However, whilst we’re not keen on the song or the singer who took last night’s victory, there is a third victor we must applaud: the country of Malta itself. It is lovely to see the land that brought us Chiara, Mary Spiteri and Ira Losco finally walk away with a Eurovision title under their belts; as they always approach the contest with such enthusiasm and resilience. It’s a shame that they did it with such a mangy song, but at the end of the day, if we look at last night’s victory as a victory for Malta and nothing more, then I am extremely happy about it.

Elsewhere in the score table, I am extremely proud of Sofia Tarasova and Ilya Volkov (known to Jaz and I as Team Ilfia) for rounding out the top three – both results are somewhat unexpected, but very well deserved! As far as comparing the final results to our predictions, it seems we were both pretty far out really. I did correctly have Russia down as 4th, and Rory managed to predict Ukraine’s silver medal too. From our combined results, we ended up randomly matching Armenia to their eventual 6th place, however that was more of a fluke than anything else. We overestimated the Netherlands and particularly underestimated Georgia. In short, it would seem we are both woeful at predicting! However in such a small field, as we said yesterday, even the simplest of predictions is a veritable challenge!

On that note – this year, only twelve countries were represented. Will this number increase in the coming years? We can only hope. The apparent flexibility of many broadcasters is evident in the amount of hiatuses which pepper many countries’ JESC histories – Malta, for example were absent in 2011 and 2012, Sweden in 2008 and Macedonia in 2012, to name but a few. Thus, we cannot rule out a return from practically any of the former participating nations, and with delegations from Spain and Germany rumoured to be amongst those present in Kyiv to observe last night’s proceedings, the Maltese victory may prompt renewed interest from Western Europe. As a TV event, JESC is not the first thing that would attract your average Saturday-night viewer, it must be said, however, we must return to that first point about the show being for kids. Put it on a children’s channel, and hey presto. I can guarantee that JESC would be no less popular than anything else shown on such stations, and would be more likely to connect to the target audience. Just a few thoughts, as we look towards next year’s show. Let’s hope it comes to pass, and that Malta is allowed the opportunity to host their first international Eurovision event on the island!

Your Views:

What did you think of JESC 2013?
What did you think of JESC 2013?

Svana Lístí Agnarsdóttir from Iceland: The show itself was actually really good and I enjoyed most of it.. Just apart from the result, I would have loved it if Armenia and San Marino got a better placing and if Ukraine won the show, but apart from that, the show was amazing!

Svetlana Andriyenko from Ukraine: I was very proud to send such a great show to the world from Ukraine, it was great party, and we are all very happy for Sofia and her good result!

Ilias Kozantinos from Cyprus: Zlata was just stunning in the show and when she sang I fell in love with her all over again. I would have liked Sweden to do better than it did and Malta shouldn’t have won, the song was too boring. All in all, it was a great show!!

Regardless of the result, last night’s two-hour extravaganza was a truly eye-opening experience. Infinitely more credible than the majority of adult observers give it credit for, its more childish attributes easy to overlook, and its professional aura most striking to witness. This is borne out by the response we have had from the selection of fans above – whether we agree with the results or not, Junior Eurovision 2013 will most certainly be remembered for a long time to come.

Do you agree with our review of the contest? Feel free to leave us a comment below with your thoughts!